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Yugoslavia: U.S. Reviewing Visa Ban

The United States yesterday said it is reviewing its list of Yugoslavs presently ineligible for U.S. visas. RFE/RL's State Department correspondent Lisa McAdams reports.

Washington, 17 November 2000 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has a long-standing policy of not providing U.S. visas for high-level Yugoslav officials. But like so many things in and around Belgrade of late, that could soon change.

This, after the United States yesterday (Thursday) characterized as "under review" bans on visas for hundreds of current and former Yugoslav officials, including former associates of ousted President Slobodan Milosevic.

State Department spokesman Phil Reeker told RFE/RL the U.S. was currently reviewing its guidance on the visa bans -- as well as the list of names. He said the U.S. was doing so given, what Reeker called, "the new circumstances in Yugoslavia."

"We are consulting with the European Union and with the government of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia on that process. (But) We cannot publicize the names of people ineligible for travel to the U.S. because every visa application is considered individually."

The European Union (EU) recently eased visa bans for Milosevic aides, including Serbian secret police Chief Rade Markovic and former Yugoslav Prime Minister Momir Bulatovic.

Bulatovic was in the public spotlight on this very issue earlier this year, when there were questions as to whether he would be allowed to travel to the United States to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Yugoslavia was not a member of the UN at that time, having only recently had its membership status restored. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher noted then, back in September, that the U.S. was only obligated to permit entry into the U.S. for government representatives of UN member states. Boucher said such individuals could only be denied entry if the U.S. could maintain that the presence of the individual would prejudice U.S. security.

The visa issue again came to the fore when the U.S. came under heavy criticism for barring several leading Yugoslav, Cuban, and Iranian officials from the Interparliamentary Union Conference (IPU) of world leaders in New York. The U.S. cited national interests in that case and said that unlike the United States' agreements with the United Nations, the U.S. has no obligations to the IPU, a Geneva-based organization.

A Senior State Department official, later yesterday on background, refused to speculate on how the U.S. review might break out. But other Balkan watchers have said it is likely only former President Milosevic and his immediate family will remain barred from entering the United States.

Yesterday's word of the U.S.-Yugoslav visa ban review comes amid the rapid rapprochement between Washington and Belgrade in the weeks since the popular uprising drove Milosevic out of office in October.

Reeker yesterday welcomed the Yugoslav government's decision to restore diplomatic relations with the United States -- among others. He also told reporters that Washington and Belgrade expect to complete the official procedures for re-establishing relations within "the next few days." Reeker said the exchange of presidential letters and diplomatic notes at the ministerial level are all that remains to be done.

"We are pleased to be normalizing relationships with the Kostunica government, as has been planned between our two governments, and we hope to restore the strong ties that have historically characterized the relations between our two countries and peoples."

Reeker noted that Yugoslav diplomats have already begun the process of re-establishing their diplomatic presence in Washington. Likewise, he said the U.S. was moving forward with its preparations for an embassy and properties in Belgrade.

The moves come more than a year after former President Milosevic broke off diplomatic ties with leading NATO countries at the start of the alliance's air war campaign in Kosovo, which was launched to force a halt to Belgrade's crackdown against Kosovar Albanians.

In the weeks following Milosevic's ouster after September elections, Yugoslavia has made strides to end the country's isolation, joining both the UN and Europe's major security forum, the OSCE. Pro-democracy President Vojislav Kostunica also has attended a European Union Summit and held talks with several world leaders.